Imagine a world without Apple fanboys

Sun Microsystems' former CEOs talk about how their company almost bought Apple -- and how it would have been a disaster

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But for an obstinate investment banker, today there might not be iPods, iPhones or iPads, according to two former chief executives of Sun Microsystems, which in 1996 was ready to buy Apple.

Scott McNealy and Ed Zander spoke about Sun's history -- the victories, defeats and bad decisions -- at a dinner in Silicon Valley Thursday night.

(Also see: McNealy: Sun could have won out over Linux)

Sun was acquired by Oracle for $7.4 billion early last year following nearly a decade of decline brought about by a poor economy and networking trends that did not favor the company.

But back in the mid '90s, Sun was at its highest market valuation while Apple was at its lowest point, stumbling badly after the departure of Steve Jobs several years earlier. According to Zander, Sun was "literally hours away from buying Apple for about $5 to $6 a share," reports eWeek.com's Chris Preimesberger:

"Honest to gosh, I was at an analysts' meeting in San Diego on a Tuesday morning and was getting ready to announce that we were going to buy Apple," Zander said. "I don't know what we were going to do with it, but we were going to buy it. (Apple) had no CEO at the time, Steve (Jobs) wasn't there, but we didn't get it. Why didn't we buy it?"

"We wanted to do it," McNealy said. "There was an investment banker on the Apple side, an absolute disaster, and he basically blocked it. He put so many terms into the deal that we couldn't afford to go do it."

Which was a good thing for millions of rabid Apple fans, McNealy acknowledged.

"If we had bought Apple, there wouldn't have been iPods or iPads ... I'd have screwed that up," he said at the dinner.

Somewhere out there is an investment banker owed a huge debt of gratitude by Apple Nation.

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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